Royal Visit 1954: Wigan, St Helens & Liverpool

On 21st October 1954, crowds lined the streets of Wigan, St Helens and Liverpool to cheer the royal visit of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Queen Elizabeth II’s First Trip To Lancashire

21st October 1954 was day one of the Queen’s first trip to Lancashire as the British Monarch. Just two years previously, on 6 February 1952, her father King George VI passed away during her stay at the Treetops Hotel in Kenya.

Overnight she became head of the Commonwealth and queen regnant of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

At the time of her visit to Lancashire in 1954, Queen Elizabeth II was 28 years old. Already married for seven years, she was mother to Prince Charles and Princess Anne. Prince Andrew and Prince Edward would arrive in the 1960s.

Day one of the trip took in Wigan, St Helen’s & Liverpool. British Pathé recorded the events and released a newsreel called ‘For Lancashire Only – Queen And Duke In Lancashire (1954)’.

The next day she was due to visit the Lancashire communities of  Bolton, Bury, Salford, Manchester, Oldham, Shaw and Rochdale.

Queen Elizabeth II Visits Wigan in October 1954

The royal party travelled by train from Euston London, arriving at Wigan North Western station at 10am. It took ten minutes to travel to the first venue of the day, ready for the 20th royal visit to Wigan since 1873.

Until 1 April 1889, Wigan belonged to the English county of Lancashire. Then it became an independent county borough. In 1974, long after the royal visit, Wigan was moved into the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan. Finally, in April 2011, it became part of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The British Pathé audience was not generally concerned about the intricacies of Local Government life, hence the acceptance of Wigan in Lancashire for the film title.

Queen Elizabeth II began the Lancashire tour by officially opening the John McCurdy Hall of the Wigan Mining and Technical College. 

The building, designed for up to 3,000 staff and students, cost £200,000 to complete.

Councillor Thomas Signey Merry (known as Tom Merry), was the 707th Mayor of Wigan. He was on hand to assist Her Majesty the Queen in her royal duties.

John McCurdy Hall was named after John McCurdy (1870-1963). He was a well known, widely liked and highly respected figure in Wigan. Born of Irish descent, he set up a pawnbrokers shop in the Scholes district of Wigan. Later, he opened a furniture emporium which is still fondly remembered today by Wigan’s older generation.

Wigan Mining and Technical College later became the Wigan College of Technology. Merged with Leigh College in April 1992, the institution is now Wigan & Leigh College.

The building is now The Parsons Walk annexe for the Wigan & Leigh College. The colliery shaft winding wheel once located here now sits in New Market Street.

Queen Elizabeth II Visits St Helens in 1954

After leaving Wigan at 10.30am that day, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh headed to St Helens by car. 

In 1954 St Helens was in Lancashire. However, on 1 April 1974 Merseyside was created in accordance with the Local Government Act 1972, taking its name from the River Mersey. Since then, St Helens has been part of Merseyside.

British Pathé was there in 1954 to record the Queen and her husband leaving the Town Hall, accompanied by the dignitaries of St Helens. 

Inside the Town Hall, the royal couple had signed the visitors book. The Mayor of St Helens, Councillor Hignett, told their majesties that their signatures would be placed on the illuminated scroll which held the signatures of the Queen parents and grandparents, obtained on previous royal visits to St Helens.

Councillor Hignett could possibly be the T Hignett who became a Freeman of the City in 1972. However, Local History Videos haven’t yet confirmed this. If you know the answer, please do get in touch.

The film briefly shows a glimpse of the policemen linking arms to hold back the crowds of supporters. It’s nice to see it in the footage because this practice disappeared several decades ago.

Today most council business in St Helens occurs in bland modern buildings, particularly Wesley House on Corporation Street. Luckily the beautiful Victorian building that the Queen visited in 1954 is still standing and is now a popular wedding venue.

The Royal Visit to Liverpool in 1954

On her last stop for the day, Queen Elizabeth visited the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Opened in 1898, it remains an important research facility today. 

Historically, Liverpool was part of Lancashire. Today it is part of the ceremonial county of Merseyside.

The second world war ended nine years before this royal visit, in 1945. Hundreds of thousands of men had served or suffered imprisonment in countries such as Burma, India, Singapore and Egypt. Tropical diseases were a real and serious threat.

It was an age when malaria, yellow fever and sleeping sickness would kill the victim or cause suffering for the rest of their lives.  Many thousands of British men watching this newsreel in 1954 had personally suffered or watched their wartime comrades succumb to these cruel illnesses.

In a world of easily obtained vaccinations and antibiotics, we sometimes forget how recently institutions such as the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine were fighting to save lives from common and deadly diseases. Research continues even today, because the battle is not yet won.

The Queen met both students and staff during the visit. Modern viewers will notice that only one young woman appears in the crowd of young men.

Liverpool residents turned out in force to greet the royal visitors, who waved from a balcony at the Liverpool Town Hall. We see streets crowded with happy and cheering men, women and children. 

The beautiful Georgian buildings of Liverpool Town Hall thankfully still remain standing and used today. In addition to council business, the premises are available for hire as a wedding and cultural event venue. 

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